At one point in the second half Wednesday at Target Center, Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine was on the court, the Wolves were on defense and they were working hard to slow San Antonio.
“I was rotating, trying to help,” LaVine recalled. “I ended up going to about three different people. I thought we were playing good rotations. But no.’’
The ball moved. From player to player, inside and then out, until finally the pinball possession ended with Manu Ginobili hitting David West for a layup and a foul.
It was that kind of night.
Youthful exuberance met veteran will Wednesday. The veterans won in San Antonio’s 108-83 victory. It was the sixth loss in eight games for the Wolves (11-18). It was the seventh straight win for San Antonio (25-5), holding the second-best record in the league.
Afterward, Sam Mitchell, the Wolves interim coach, had a simple message for his team: Watch and learn.
“It’s about learning and growing and understanding,” Mitchell said. “When you talk to your team about what you want to become as a team, you can point to those guys.’’
He was referring to the veteran, deep Spurs, with a roster chock full of All-Stars and future Hall of Famers, a group that displayed dazzling ball movement on offense and consistent play on defense.
“Like I told our players before the game, this has been the winningest franchise in the last 17-18 years, and that’s something we have to aspire to be,’’ Mitchell said. “How they play the game, their professionalism, how they come out, move the ball.’’
Even Mitchell talked about how it was men against boys at times; at one point he said the Wolves looked small compared to the Spurs.
And it showed. The Spurs outrebounded and outshot the Wolves. Minnesota’s starters managed just 33 points, going a combined 10-for-31 from the field. The Wolves scored just 24 points in the paint.
“They’ve been together so long, and we’re just starting with our group,” said Andrew Wiggins, who scored 10 points but was 2-for-11 from the field and had five shots blocked. “We played good, too, but the way they move the ball and shrink the floor, defensively, they’re a good team.’’
The Wolves never led. Up two in the first quarter, the Spurs went on a run that pushed the lead to 14, and San Antonio’s lead only dipped below 10 one more time, and then just briefly. Kawhi Leonard had 19 points, leading six Spurs in double figures.
The Spurs outscored the Wolves by 30 in the paint and also hit on 10 of 24 three-pointers.
“That’s a goal of ours, to take what they’ve got and learn from it,” Wiggins said. “See how they play, how they move the ball, how they help defensively.’’
It will take time. LaVine came off the bench to score a team-high 17 points. Shabazz Muhammad (15) and Gorgui Dieng (12) also scored in double figures off the bench.
But this game was never really in question. Down 14 at the half, the Wolves scored the first six points of the third quarter to pull within eight. But, just five minutes later, the Spurs lead was up to 19.
“Their record speaks for itself,” rookie guard Tyus Jones said. Back from his brief stint in the Development League, Jones scored six points in nearly 20 minutes of playing time; his first NBA basket coming on a driving lefthanded layup in the first quarter. “How they play the game, that’s what separates them — how unselfish they are, how they move the ball so quickly. I’ll definitely be able to take a lot from this game.’’